10 Things Our Grandparents Can Teach Us About Money

I’m lucky enough to have two living grandmothers. My grandma on my dad’s side was born in 1928, and my nana on my mom’s side was born in 1931. They are children of the Depression, and they are both extremely savvy about their money.

Nowadays, it’s hip to be frugal. I should know! But back in those days (when they had to walk uphill! Both ways! In the snow! With only a hot potato to help keep their hands warm!) their frugality was born of necessity. They didn’t have much. Really. And they survived. Actually, I’d argue that they’ve truly thrived, and we could all learn a thing or two from them. Read on to find ten things our grandparents can teach us about money.

  • 10 Things Our Grandparents Can Teach Us About Money 1 of 11
  • 1. If you don’t have the money, you can’t afford the item 2 of 11

    We're fooled all the time into thinking we can afford something that we can't. it's the lure of "x monthly payments!" and it's pure marketing genius. But it's not a good strategy, and not something my grandma or nana ever had to think about, because banks didn't hand out credit in those days like they do today. Color TV? Only if you had cash.


    Image by DTL

  • 2. Waste not, want not 3 of 11

    Letting food go to waste is something that the children of the Depression still won't allow. They'll use everything. Grandma still judges family members that throw away entirely black bananas. "How dare they!" she'd exclaim. To this day, she'll throw all of her leftovers into a pot to make leftover soup. The results are mixed. Sometimes it's really awesome. Sometimes? Well, let's just say it gets eaten anyway.


    Image by bandini

  • 3. Minimalist wardrobe 4 of 11

    We talk about minimalism today like it's something we came up with on our own. Aren't we clever? Except, that's just not true. My grandmas didn't have 10 pairs of shoes, or 2 closets full of clothes, and they still don't. Each of them has two or three church-friendly outfits, and the same number of comfy outfits. If you ask them about extra closets for extra clothes, they would simply laugh at you.


    Image by bjwebbiz

  • 4. Use an item three or four times before throwing it away 5 of 11

    Grandma will reuse a teabag, even today, until the tea is completely transparent. Nana will reuse a paper towel three or four times. A whole chicken gets repurposed twice even before we're done eating roast chicken. Grandparents know how to use, and reuse, things. Grandma had 7 children, so clothes were handed down until threadbare, then cut into rags. Today our society is so disposable that we don't hold on to things for very long at all. We should think twice about an item's potential future purpose before throwing it away.


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  • 5. Save your money 6 of 11

    When you're a child of the Depression, it changes you. You never, ever get to the point where you spend as much as you earn. Decidedly not more than you earn. Debt today is a different animal than debt during the Depression. But both Nana and Grandma are excellent savers. They saved all their lives, and now, they have enough so that their kids don't have to support them in their golden years.


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  • 6. You must take care of yourself 7 of 11

    Nana and Grandma didn't have parents who could bail them out of a financial pickle were they to get in one. And they were both familiar with financial strain. But they were resourceful women who knew that they needed to stand on their own feet financially. Nana especially has demonstrated that a woman should never lean on her husband for financial support. So make your own money, have your own money, budget for disaster. Just in case.


    Image by Alvimann

  • 7. What you have is enough 8 of 11

    Neither one of my grandmas has ever once wished to live in a mansion. They don't know how to keep up with the Joneses, and they don't want to. I've never seen them bemoan their financial states. This generation, more so than mine, takes what they're given and doesn't complain.


    Image by drrj

  • 8. Work hard for the next generation 9 of 11

    My grandmas taught me that the reason to work hard is to make the world a better place for your kids. They sacrificed more than they'd ever admit in order to give their children more opportunities than they had. Now, I know this is an inherent parental trait, but I think it's even more poignant when you grow up during the worst economic time in America.


    Image by kakisky

  • 9. Keep your friends close 10 of 11

    Grandma has had the same best friend since she was a child. They've been through everything together, and now they are both widows living in the same town. Her friends' kids and grandkids come to our family's reunion every year. Nana has a strong relationship with the people in her life that have been her friends forever as well. They demonstrated to me that friends are as important as family, and that some friends ARE family.


    Image by bjwebbiz

  • 10. Find entertainment where you can 11 of 11
    Ten things our grandparents can teach us about money

    Last summer, when I spent some time with Grandma and her best friend, they were talking about the olden days. We were standing on a recently repaved parking lot, and there was new asphalt and some of that gummy stuff that keeps asphalt together. "Remember when we'd pick this off the ground and use it as chewing gum?" Grandma's friend asked nonchalantly. "In those days, we found our entertainment where we could. Sure, it sounds weird now, with all this abundance, but we had a good time then, too."


    That story will stay with me forever. I'd like to think knowing these women, and knowing that I come from this strong, independent stock makes me stronger.


    Image by Frugal Portland

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